I love when people call me to ask for advice. It's my favorite part of my job. There are a handful of people whose problems I love so much that I'll take their call--almost no matter what else I'm doing--because I know it'll be a good one.
My eagerness is created by roughly equal parts by ego, wanting to help, and enjoying a front row seat in someone else's soap opera. It's surely a character flaw to enjoy advice-giving this much, but it's true. My retirement fantasy isn't sitting on a beach with a book. It's sitting on the beach at a little card table with a sign that says, "Free Advice." With the confidence that comes with wrinkles and spots, I'll branch out beyond work problems to all kinds of skincare, fitness, and relationship problems.
I know I'm not the only one that loves giving advice so much. Over the years, I've learned there are some basic rules of advice-giving that cannot be broken. Regardless of whether people take your advice, you can get better at giving it--which means progressively more thoughtful, challenging, and precise suggestions.
So, how do you come up with better options for those who come seeking advice?
The first step is to model your advice based on the cause, effect, and result of challenges you've had in the past at work. Too often, we deal with problems at work and fail to notice whether we handled it in the best way possible--or to give ourselves credit for good crisis management--and instead are just grateful it's over. When you take time to jot down these situations as they happen in a journal (or running Word doc), you increase your ability to recall and retell stories about the actions that worked and didn't in the past and why.
Second, you keep your ears open to hear other people's stories. These are stories of problem cause, effect, and result that come from people in your professional circles and those stories you read in the news and nonfiction. You can learn plenty from other people's problems, it turns out.
Lastly, you have to nurture your creative thinking and problem solving skills. These strengths are really why people are asking you and not just relying on their own ideas. They're looking for a path they can't already see. If you're just walking them through the steps in the handbook (which in some cases is exactly the right piece of advice), they're not going to feel they're getting much value out of the exchange. Instead, help them consider ways to combine actions in uncommon ways.
For example, if the person asking for advice wants to get promoted, your advice might start with, "do your best work." However, you know that's not enough. They must do great work and also take other steps like helping a junior colleague get promoted, taking on a leadership role in their industry association, moderating a conference panel, or building a rock-solid relationship with a big prospective client.
To be the "go to" advice giver, you need to respect the rules of engagement and offer a solid range of issues and options. For your own peace of mind, you also need to disconnect from whatever the advice-asker does (or doesn't do) with your suggestions. Being asked for advice can be professionally satisfying. It reflects the respect others have for your perspective and the value they place on the relationship. Keeping respect and value in mind when someone reveals their problems to you is the quickest way to be sought after more often.
If you liked this column, subscribe to email alerts in the Work Life Lab and you'll never miss a post.